|Vujacic scores career playoff high 20 in Lakers win|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 10 June 2008 19:00|
With that, the Los Angeles Lakers got the victory they had to have.
Vujacic, a sharpshooter from Slovenia, came off the bench to score a career playoff high 20 points including a crucial 3-pointer with a little under two minutes remaining, and the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-81 on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA finals.
The victory trimmed Boston's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Only three teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win the finals, but no NBA team has ever rallied successfully from a 3-0 deficit in any series.
``We just played with heart,'' Vujacic said. ``We didn't play a great game. We didn't play not even good. We were just fighting, and that was the key.''
Bryant, of course, led the Lakers with 36 points capped by two crucial baskets after Vujacic's decisive 3-pointer. Vujacic was the only other Los Angeles player to reach double figures. The other four Los Angeles starters combined to shoot 7-for-28 and score 22 points.
``The open shots he got, he made,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``His defense was good for us tonight, and we couldn't have won the game without his help.''
The 24-year-old Vujacic, a first-round draft choice in 2004, shot 7-for-10 including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter, and had four rebounds and an assist in 27 1/2 minutes.
With Vujacic leading the way, the Lakers' bench outscored the Celtics' reserves 29-21.
``My teammates gave me open looks and we played team basketball on offense,'' he said. ``I live for those shots. It's the NBA finals. I was dreaming about that all my life, to win the NBA championship, and now I have the opportunity.''
The Celtics scored four straight points to draw within two before Vujacic missed a 3-pointer. But after a Boston miss, Lamar Odom found the fourth-year pro open in the left corner, and he fired away without hesitation. The ball went in with 1:53 remaining, the Lakers had a five-point lead, and Boston didn't pose a serious threat after that.
``Those are the shots I live for, honestly,'' he said. ``I love the last five minutes of the game, last two minutes, last possessions of the game. Lamar got the ball and he found me in the corner and I was wide open. I had the opportunity to make a shot, I made it, and we got a `W.'''
Vujacic's confidence has never wavered. He's played more and more as his four-year career has progressed.
``He's a little bit of a rockhead,'' Jackson said. ``That's what we call him. He believes in himself very sincerely that he's going to make the next one, and you have to be that way if you're going to have the guts to go out there and do it. Sasha is always going to make the next shot.''
Vujacic laughed when told of his coach's description of him.
``I'm stubborn, so probably that's what got me where I am now,'' he said.
Center Pau Gasol had five of his nine points in the fourth quarter, but shot just 3-for-9. Forwards Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic, both saddled with foul problems, managed only seven points between them, and Derek Fisher added six.
The Lakers can even the series Thursday night in Game 4. The fifth game will be played Sunday night at Staples Center before the action shifts back to Boston for Games 6 and 7, if they're needed.
The Lakers were an angry bunch about the free throw situation in Game 2, when Boston went 27-for-38 and the Lakers were 10-for-10. The situation changed in Game 3, with Los Angeles going 21-for-34 and the Celtics 15-for-22.
The Lakers surpassed their Game 2 total in the first quarter, and tried 22 in the first half but made only 12. So instead of having a lead at or near double figures, their advantage was only six although they held Boston stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to two points each.
That was two fewer than the Gasol-Odom tandem. Odom went scoreless, limited to a little over seven minutes by foul problems. Gasol missed his four field goal attempts and shot just 2-for-6 from the foul line.
Vujacic, who averaged 8.8 points during the regular season and 8.1 points in 17 previous playoff games, scored nine of his team's 23 points in the second period, making four field goals without a miss. He had shot 42-for-105 including 9-of-20 in the postseason.
``He was huge for us tonight,'' Lakers forward Luke Walton said. ``He's a confident shooter. He made a couple free throws to get him going. He was a big-time player tonight.''